Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: October 2015

October 2015

Yes, Christians Really Are "Marginalized"

In his letter “Are Christians Really Marginalized?” (Jul.-Aug.), George Carney asks how one’s freedom to practice the Christian faith is “in any way inhibited or abrogated by someone else choosing to live his life a different way” — e.g., by entering into a same-sex marriage, practicing euthanasia, or taking contraception.

The answer is quite simple: Christians’ freedom to practice their faith is being abrogated by government authorities. For example, an Oregon couple was fined $135,000 by an administrative law judge and forced out of business for abiding by their Christian faith in refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Moreover, there is an ongoing appellate case in Colorado involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, who refuse to abide by the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate that organizations must cover contraception, abortion, and sterilization in their employees’ health-insurance plans. Catholics are even going after each other now: A Catholic high school in New Jersey, under pressure from Hollywood starlets, suspended its theology teacher for posting a comment on Facebook saying that gay activists “want to reengineer western civ into a slow extinction.” (The teacher was later reinstated.)

These are all examples of Christians who sought to practice their faith and are now being persecuted for it.

Walter LaCon

Apperley Bridge, West Yorkshire

Hammonton, New Jersey

Here are some examples of the marginalization of Christians, published recently in a Catholic newspaper:

– In Oregon a Christian-owned cake shop was forced to close after its owners were harassed and received death threats for declining to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

– In Indiana a family-owned cookie shop faced a discrimination investigation after it declined to make rainbow cookies for National Coming Out Day.

– In Kentucky a T-shirt company was investigated by the Human Rights Commission after it declined to make shirts for a local LGBT advocacy group.

– In Colorado a baker is facing possible jail time and a fine if he continues to decline to bake cakes for same-sex weddings.

– In California a woman in a same-sex relationship successfully sued two doctors for declining to perform an artificial insemination.

– In Illinois the owners of a bed-and-breakfast who declined to rent their facility to a same-sex couple entering into a civil union were sued for discrimination.

– In Massachusetts a Catholic Charities office had to stop offering adoption services in order to avoid being forced to place children with same-sex couples.

– In British Columbia a Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Christian owners of a bed-and-breakfast to pay $4,500 to two men for damaging their “dignity, feelings and self-respect” for canceling their reservation because they are homosexuals.

– The State of New York fined the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm $13,000 for refusing to hold a lesbian “wedding ceremony” on their property.

Mr. Carney states that “for a very long time Christians have taken for granted the right to impose their unique views on everyone else.” This is an unfair statement. The only thing these Christians took for granted was the right to live their Christian beliefs without being sued, fined, harassed, investigated, and threatened with death.

(Name Withheld by Request)

Union Correctional Institution

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

These days it’s not the Christians — who make up four-fifths of the U.S. population — who are “imposing” their beliefs on “everyone else.” Rather, it is the minority of secularists and atheists who are using the courts to impose their views on the Christian majority. Yes, Mr. Carney, there is a war on religion.

Donald J. Schenk

1920 Monument Blvd. #309, Concord, CA 94520; 925-899-3064

Allentown, Pennsylvania

In response to George Carney’s request to be “enlightened” about why Christians feel there is a “war on religion” or a “war against the church,” I highly recommend he read the books Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert R. Reilly, Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity by Anthony Esolen, Christians in Danger: Twenty Reasons for Hope by Marc Fromager, 40 Days for Life: Discover What God Has Done…Imagine What He Can Do by David Bereit and Shawn Carney, and Spiritual Life in the Modern World by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Carney writes that “Christians have taken for granted the right to impose their unique views on everyone else.” Has he ever been told by a Catholic, or any other Christian, that he must join their faith or they will behead him, burn him alive, or drown him in a cage? As a professed longtime reader of and subscriber to the NOR, I would have hoped he’d have a better “picture” of us than he seems to have.

Pamela Ahearn

Hammond, Indiana

George Carney should pick up a copy of The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism by Edward Feser, which will answer all his questions about contraception, abortion, and assisted suicide. It will help him understand the concept of the natural law and the morality that springs from it, and it will help him see the evil that is let loose when we try to legalize error (just look at our crumbling society).

I also recommend Carney read 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help by Benjamin Wiker. It will show him how he has been lulled into thinking that we can have a world based on the concept of no-fault sin in which our choices are said not to have an effect on those around us. This book puts the lie to that dream.

Richard L. Giovanoni

Hagerstown, Maryland

George Carney, who states that he is not a Catholic or even a believer, asks a very good question: How do we explain to our secular culture why the abuse of our God-given free will hurts others and society as a whole when we engage in behavior that is deemed “victimless”? It is almost impossible to do so without belief in God.

In the song “America the Beautiful” is the awesome line, “God shed His grace on thee.” Grace is God’s love for us, manifested in so many ways in our daily lives. When we pay attention to God, give Him our time, adore Him, love Him, and honor Him, we experience this love back — that is what grace is.

When we violate God’s natural law, the law He has written on our hearts, we lose favor with God and hence we lose His grace. If two men across the street from me decide to get “married,” in the short term this will, in all likelihood, not directly impact me or my family. In the long term, with the perpetuation of this violation of the natural law, we as a society increase the likelihood of bringing down the wrath of God upon us.

“No man is an island,” says the famous poem. All of us on earth are connected. To recognize God and to love Him brings joy to us not only individually but to society as a whole when God sheds His grace on us. When we sin, we affect everyone around us by shutting off the channel of God’s grace.

Mike Acheson

Port Angeles, Washington

George Carney’s rhetorical question asking how someone living his life in “a different way” affects anyone else is one that’s been put forth many times by militant secularists. The rhetoric is based on a lie.

The four-step approach taken by the homosexual lobby, beginning in the 1970s, should “enlighten” Mr. Carney. In step one, they asked to be “tolerated.” Stop prosecuting and persecuting us, they said. Just let us be. What we do in the privacy of our own homes has no negative impact on anyone. Most Americans eventually fulfilled this request.

In step two they asked to be “accepted.” We shouldn’t have to live our lives in a closet, they said. Don’t discriminate against us for being who we are. Befriend us, invite us into your homes, put us on your TV shows. While many Americans resisted initially, they eventually fulfilled this request too.

In more recent years we have witnessed step three: “endorse us.” Give us legal protection and the full rights and privileges you enjoy, they demanded. For most Americans — including, until recently, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — this was a step too far. Some federal courts, however, and now the highest court in the land, have ruled otherwise, and now we’re on to step four: “obey us.”

The arguments that only tolerance, and then only acceptance, and then only endorsement are all they were asking for were simply lies. They do not extend the same tolerance, acceptance, and endorsement they sought for themselves to those who disapprove of their activities. Indeed, they consider such people bigots who suffer from a phobia or who are possibly guilty of hate crimes. And now we’re witnessing Christians — florists, bakers, photographers, adoption agents, soon even clergy — being harassed and even sued or put out of business for not acquiescing to their demands.

Noel J. Augustyn

Chevy Chase, Maryland

There is no small irony in the fact that George Carney accuses Christians of “imposing” their views on everyone else at the very moment that homosexuals, who make up less than three percent of the population, with the help of five Supreme Court justices, have just imposed their view of the meaning and purpose of marriage on the rest of society. This was achieved by ignoring the law, the Constitution, and all Supreme Court precedents. It was also done by ignoring the fact that the universal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman arose to meet the vital need of ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and a father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship. According to James Q. Wilson, writing in The Marriage Problem (2002), “As one prominent scholar put it, ‘Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve.'”

Despite the fact that the definition of marriage has existed for millennia and across civilizations, that it was held by those who drafted and ratified the Constitution, and also by those who added the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court’s majority, in Obergefell v. Hodges, charges that laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage demean or stigmatize same-sex couples, inflict dignitary wounds on our gay and lesbian neighbors, and arise from bigotry.

The truth is that calling a same-sex union a “marriage” inescapably excludes and denies the fundamental reason for the existence of marriage. Secular marriage exists because the majority of people throughout civilized history has believed that, for the good of children and society, sexual relations that can lead to procreation should occur only between a man and a woman committed to a lasting bond.

No child is ever conceived by his biological parents in a same-sex union! Typical of most same-sex unions, both parents must adopt a child into the union. In some same-sex unions, one partner conceives a child with a third party, and the other partner must then adopt the child to bring him fully into the same-sex union. That is why calling a same-sex union a marriage repudiates and destroys historic marriage. Thus, the term same-sex marriage is an oxymoron in that it contradicts the reason marriage exists.

James J. Harris

San Diego, California

No Help on the Way

In your New Oxford Note “Barbarians at the Gates of Civilization” (Jul.-Aug.), you wrote that Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo “asks an important question: What is the West waiting for” before it intervenes to protect Middle Eastern Christians? The archbishop is pleading from a position that would have once been heard, but sadly, no Western nation will intervene with troops to protect the victims of the Islamic State (ISIS). Can Western civilization now even acknowledge “good and evil,” let alone discern a difference between the two concepts in a traditional sense?

You also quote Fernando Cardinal Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as saying, “We need political action and proportional military action.” What nation would be so naïve as to commit to a struggle that would kill Middle Eastern civilians? What nation would endure the anger of its news media when that powerful minority turns against the war with ISIS? (And they always turn — that’s a given.) If those governments paid any attention to their intellectuals they would know that preventing Islamist aggression with armed force exponentially propagates more terrorists; that point has been relentlessly drummed into the heads of the unsophisticated citizenry.

What “great nations” would “intervene?” Would the Baltic States or Poland have the resources to send help when they are eyeing Mother Russia to the East? Russia seems to be the only bellicose power that could stand up to Islamism. Or could Israel send troops to its north? That nation is preoccupied in dealing with the recent devastating Iran deal. What great nation would intervene and then subject itself to the wrath of the media when the first soldiers’ bodies arrive home for burial?

If the suggestion is that the U.S. is one of the great nations, maybe those concerned about protecting the innocent should rethink the implication. We signed a treaty to protect Ukraine from aggressive neighbors as a motivator for Ukraine to give up Soviet-era nuclear weapons. After Russia invaded Ukraine, we shrugged off our alliance with barely a whisper from the media about obligations promised.

Why would America want to help save Christians in Syria and Iraq when our current administration rescinded a ban on funding abortions internationally and has spent countless dollars exporting infanticide and sterilization? Recently, undercover videos were handed over to the American media and public showing that Planned Parenthood — that metastasized experiment in commercialized eugenics — is murdering babies and then harvesting and selling their body parts. If our government has no interest in stopping this industrialized pagan blood sacrifice, and our major news media have no interest in reporting on it, why would anybody think that America might be willing to stop other atrocities so far from its shores?

The barbarians are not at the gates; decades ago they began streaming out of the wooden horse, a gift from academia, and are running the city!

Craig McEwan

Portal, Arizona

A Curious Omission

Thanks to F. Douglas Kneibert for a great and sorely needed clarification of what constitutes the sensus fidei (“Making Sense of the ‘Sense of the Faith,'” Jul.-Aug.). I was surprised, however, that he left out a passage from Lumen Gentium that refers to the bishops as part of the definition of the faithful. It reads, “This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” (no. 12). There is no authentic sensus fidei apart from the bishops.

Jack Abel

Wichita Falls, Texas

How We Lost the Youth

I am in full agreement with your New Oxford Note “Catechesis & the Average Catholic” (Jul.-Aug.). But there is more to this story. When the edict was given that every parish have a Catholic school, the primacy of the parental responsibility for faith development weakened. If children were required to be in Catholic schools, then it was assumed they were getting faith education, and for the most part they were — at first. Then government money came into the equation. Soon schools started using non-Catholic textbooks, and parents became less aware of what their children were being taught. Each successive generation had less and less formation in the faith. This is how the ball was dropped.

As a former principal at a Catholic elementary school, my focus was always on “formation” more than education. But at larger Catholic schools, faith formation has to compete with academics, sports, extracurricular programs, and more. And with parents working full time, showing strong support for athletics and academics, and handing over their roles as first teachers of the faith to schools that can’t (or won’t) always provide a staff of teachers who fully model the faith, what happens to the students’ catechetical formation?

The reality is, no matter what we all think, children learn much more from what they observe than from what they are told. Where kids are concerned, St. Francis’s famous saying applies: Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary, use words!

Carolyn Price

Bloomville, Ohio

More than Disturbed

I was more than disturbed to read the attacks on Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X (ed. replies, May and Jul.-Aug.), and therefore I can no longer support the NOR, although I have gladly done so for many years. Please cancel my subscription and do not contact me again. My family and I are no longer with you in what you are trying to do.

Mark Hassen, M.D.

Imperial, Missouri

I won’t renew my subscription because of your continuing attacks on the Society of St. Pius X. Remove my name from your mailing list.

James Tomnitz

West Chicago, Illinois

Given how you’ve treated the late Fr. Nicholas Gruner of the Fatima Center (“An Epilogue for the Disappointed” by Howard Kainz, April 2013) and that you’ve turned further from Tradition rather than gradually embracing it, as I had hoped, I just can’t write another check to you. Cancel my subscription.

Matt Marrazzo

Fairfax, Virginia

Caution: Treacherous Territory Ahead

In his attempt to give a context to Teilhard de Chardin’s theology of evolution, Mark McMenamin has unearthed more than he imagined (“The Theological Treachery of Partial Scientific Truths,” Jul.-Aug.). Is Teilhard an evolutionary scientist, a Catholic theologian, or a fusion of the two? McMenamin points out that Teilhard the scientist accepted Darwin’s gradualist evolution, and he gives a concrete instance of its error. The late Thomas Dwight, Parkman Professor of Anatomy at Harvard Medical School and a Catholic convert (d. 1911), regarded during his lifetime as the world’s leading expert on comparative osteology and comparative embryology, proved irrefutably that Darwin’s thesis of gradual evolution was wrong. He was annoyed that Darwin’s followers claimed that human embryos’ development in stages proved Darwin’s hypothesis. Dwight was even more annoyed after he had conclusively disproved the conjecture when Darwin’s followers continued to promote it. Dwight thought the Darwinian hypothesis of human evolution so flawed that it would soon wither. It does not speak well for Teilhard as a scientist that he so glibly accepted a hypothesis so thoroughly disproved. So much for Teilhard the evolutionary scientist.

How about Teilhard the Catholic theologian? Can it be that his theology harbors some idea that might help the Church to understand more profoundly the divine revelation entrusted to her? Here is where McMenamin’s wise counsel fits nicely: caution, caution, caution; this is treacherous territory.

The Teilhard case has many parallels with that of Galileo, who professed grandly that the planets orbited the sun in perfect circles — a theory with theological implications. So again we have Galileo the astronomical scientist, Galileo the Catholic theologian, and Galileo the scientist-theologian. Scientists of the day easily proved Galileo’s theory to be false. Whatever the motion between planets and sun, it was surely not one of purely concentric circles. Like Teilhard, Galileo was wrong on his science. But what about his theology? Here we have a cautious acquiescence that some of his ideas might in fact help the Church understand divine revelation better. Again McMenamin’s wise counsel applies. The interface between natural science and theology is treacherous territory.

Galileo was censured by authorities in the Church. It is interesting to note that he produced his best scientific work after the censure and with the support of other Church authorities. Church authorities also rebuked Teilhard, but he does not seem to have put the rebuke to the good effect that Galileo did.

The problem here is deeper and more profound than that exposed by McMenamin. Ask a physicist to define the science of physics. The answers will range from inadequate to ridiculous. The same goes for astronomy, and for evolution. Almost all of modern science is built on the sands of ambiguity and contradiction. How is the Church to dialogue with scientists who, as McMenamin attests, profess the “latest science [which] may very well be wrong”? Is it by welcoming them warmly, turning a blind eye to their errors? Or are we to be more like Christ, who calls all to His loving embrace through repentance? Modern science needs the Church much more than the Church needs modern science. The Church should challenge modern scientists to pursue the truth with the greatest integrity, scrupulously avoiding duplicity, ambiguity, illogic, monetary allurements, and the many other vices that plague science today. By a diligent pursuit of the truth, scientists can approach the Author of all truth, Jesus Christ, and so realize their true vocation.

To flatter is easy; to challenge is hard.

Joseph R. Breton

Walpole, Massachusetts


Joseph R. Breton is right to emphasize Thomas Dwight’s displeasure with Darwinian gradualism. Dwight’s 1911 book Thoughts of a Catholic Anatomist reads well today and deserves a wider audience. Dwight was quick to identify the importance of that aspect of evolutionary science most fascinating to Teilhard — namely, “the appearance of very similar [features] in very diverse animals, pointing to a general law.” Dwight then skillfully unmasked the real motive behind Darwinism, exposing its dark agenda (“what is essential is to have an atheistic solution”). Dwight calls this “sham science,” manifest in the “admission of…stalwart defenders of natural selection that it cannot be proved but that it must be accepted to escape from the supernatural.”

Charles Darwin’s apostasy led him to fume that he could “hardly imagine that anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true” because of the impending judgment on those who do not believe. Darwinian apostasy has much in common with S.J. Gould’s impulse to establish the concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), whereby science is hermetically sealed off from religion. Here again Dwight already has the corrective: “Many hold that there can be no interference with science on the part of religion, nor with religion on the part of science, because their spheres are entirely distinct…. It is as if one should say: ‘I believe in medicine and I believe in law, but I keep them quite apart,’ forgetting that there are…laws which may not be ignored in the practice of medicine.”

Finally, Dwight appeals to G.K. Chesterton for an apt rendering of our place in the scheme of things. No one says it better than Chesterton: “Man is always something worse or something better than an animal.”

John Beaumont


Staggered & Appalled

Thank you for publishing a review of my book on American converts, The Mississippi Flows into the Tiber (Jul.-Aug.). I was pleased by the generally positive comments. I was staggered, however, by the comment that the book is “riddled with typos.” This is certainly not the case. The book was proofread by several people, notably Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a contributing editor of the NOR. I have never come across anyone so thorough as Anne in all she does, and Anne is appalled too by the comment, though she is far too polite to say so.

Gerald Benton

Raiford, Florida


Anne Barbeau Gardiner is certainly a thorough proofreader — and polite too. But professional book publishers require at least a dozen proofreaders to catch the majority of typos, misspellings, and inconsistencies in a work. This is even more critical when a book is over 1,000 pages long. The NOR uses at least seven proofreaders for every issue, and we sometimes fall short of perfection. Two questions arise: Does Fidelity Press employ the standard number of proofreaders? Did the publisher apply all of Anne’s (and others’) proofreading corrections in the galley proofs?

Published works are open to public scrutiny. Our reviews are honest assessments of published works — they aren’t puff pieces or hit pieces. If our book reviewer (who is also our book review editor) says a book is riddled with typos, it’s because it is riddled with typos, not because she needs to make things up just to write something negative about a book.

Hurd Baruch

Tucson, Arizona

Measuring Possession

Thank you for printing my letter, “Wanted: Catholic Pen-Pal” (June). I was not expecting it to be printed but it turned out to be a fine blessing. I received several responses, mostly wishing me well and offering prayers for me, for which I am very grateful. I certainly need them!

A couple of the respondents have indicated that they will continue to write to me, which is exactly what I had been hoping for. Contact with Catholics on the outside is something I have longed for since the passing of my wife, and I thank the NOR for enabling it. It is a blessing that is really beyond my ability to express.

Regarding the exchange in the letters section of the July-August issue about demonic activity (“Context Shades Interpretations”): True demonic possession, I believe, does not have to manifest itself in bizarre physical characteristics like levitation, superhuman strength, or the ability to speak foreign languages. When Jesus sent His disciples out to evangelize and gave them the authority to cast out demons, they were largely successful at it. They did, however, come across one instance in which a demon did not respond to the name of Jesus (Mk. 9:14-29). Jesus’ explanation for this was that some demons take more prayer than others to overcome. Again, Mary Magdalene was delivered of seven demons yet there is no record of “demented behavior” or levitation, etc., on her part. The accounts of demonic possession in the Gospel run the spectrum of physical manifestations, from very little to very much (e.g., the Gerasene demoniac), yet each is considered a case of true possession that needs holy deliverance.

Physical manifestations are only one way to measure demonic possession. Prison, where I am, and places like it, is teeming with demonic activity. Satan and his demons can always have a field day in prison because so many people already want to do their will. The measure I have learned to use to “discern the spirits” is this: When I see a person who obviously enjoys creating chaos and misery, when I see a person with an appetite for evil that can’t be accounted for by human nature, then I am seeing demonic activity at some level.

We must remember that we have been warned of the abundance of the principalities and powers that Satan has at his disposal, and that spiritual warfare is what we are engaged in. I believe I can see the works of the prince of darkness every day here — among the staff as well as the prisoners. If I have a doubt about a person, all I have to do is start talking about Jesus being the Christ and check the reaction. Whoa! Talk about getting unpopular in a hurry!

I write this with the sure knowledge that the more aware we are of Satan’s ways, the more effectively we can fight him. I pray for the staff and readers of the NOR every day, and I hope that the Lord will expand its readership exponentially.

Lucia Bartoli

Laguna Niguel, California

Ed. Note: As for the physical characteristics of possession, Maria Hsia Chang wrote on a relatively unexplored phe­nomenon known as “perfect possession” in our May 2009 issue. According to Chang, the perfectly, or totally, possessed give “no outward indication, no hint whatsoever, of the demonic residing within.” They “do not display the usual symptoms that the Church attributes to partial possession” — demented behavior or levitation, etc. Rather, the perfectly possessed can be identified based on their demeanor (a lack of empathy is common), by the words they use to describe themselves (e.g., as a “monster” or a “devil” or that an alien presence resides within them), and by their deeds, which, Chang writes, are often “acts of great depravity, unspeakable cruelty, and the murder of innocents, as well as…the employment of Satanic symbols and rituals.”

That said, we must tread carefully when we are tempted to attribute demonic activity to others. Satan is, after all, the great deceiver, and he can easily trick us into thinking we detect his presence where it does not exist.

Terence J. Hughes

Fort Pierre, South Dakota

A Nonstarter

Dale S. Recinella suggests (letter reply, Jul.-Aug.) that a requirement for a conviction in a capital case be based on a standard of “moral certainty” of guilt. This is a nonstarter, as the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled it out as not being fair enough to the accused. In Sandoval v. California (1994) a condemned man challenged the jury instructions pursuant to which he was convicted because they included requiring a “moral certainty” of guilt. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority, noted that many years earlier the Court had said that “proof to a ‘moral certainty’ is an equivalent phrase with ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.'” However, the convicted man argued that “moral certainty” would be understood by modern jurors to mean a standard of proof lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Court agreed with him on that point, saying that “we do not condone use of the phrase,” as the common meaning of the phrase has changed over time. It cited a current dictionary definition that interpreted the phrase as meaning “a strong likelihood or firm conviction rather than [certainty] based on actual evidence.”

But the Court, citing other language (“excluding any reasonable doubt”) in the instructions, refused to overturn Sandoval’s death sentence. The Court was convinced that, in totality, it was not reasonably likely that the jury understood the phrase moral certainty either as suggesting a standard of proof lower than constitutional due process requires (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt) or as allowing conviction on factors other than the government’s proof.

Instead of a futile attempt to change the standard for proof of guilt in a capital case, let’s focus our thoughts on what the hardcore cases are that prudentially call for application of the death penalty. In that regard, I would add that since my first letter was published (Jul.-Aug.), a Texas corrections officer escorting a prisoner to his cell was beaten to death, and an inmate in another prison was sawed in two during a prison riot.

Patricia Ryan

Houston, Texas


Hurd Baruch, in his letter (Jul.-Aug.) commenting on Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s article “Is There a Biblical Basis for Capital Punishment?” (Aprib| admits that innocent people have been wrongly executed in U.S. history. He further states — as a way to legitimize the continuation of capital punishment — that riots in prisons, wherein other inmates and/or guards might be killed, constitute “proof” that we have to keep some individuals away from society.

What these individuals need, however, is not execution but more rigid incarceration, such as at maximum-security facilities. If we as a society can achieve extraordinary advances in medicine and technology, etc., but cannot find a way to effectively rehabilitate a criminal, then we are as backwards as the other nations that still use the death penalty. Who might those be? According to a report from Amnesty International, the nations with the highest number of executions in 2013 were, in order:

1. China
2. Iran
3. Iraq
4. Saudi Arabia
5. America

From where I sit in my pew, that’s not very good company. That’s why I have been involved with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal-justice system. Visit www.innocenceproject.org to learn more about the important work this organization is doing.

Camille Giglio, California Right to Life Committee, Inc.

callifeadvocates@gmail.com; callifeadvocates.org/blog; noisecoalition.wordpress.com

Lethal injection is the new humane form of capital punishment in the U.S. How did it come about? Imagine yourself a prisoner on death row. As the hours before your execution slip away, as the last sands run through your hourglass, you may call to mind earlier forms of capital punishment.

You think of the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in Paris at the height of the French Revolution. A great angry and joyful mob crowds the square with the guillotine in the center. The crowd roars every time the blade drops. You take your turn climbing the steps. You are pressed down and your head is shoved between the wooden clamps. You hear the hiss of the falling blade and the roar of the crowd as you look down at the other heads in the drop basket. Suddenly your head is there among them. You can still see. Your lips mouth prayers or curses, silent because your lungs no longer provide air. Maybe the executioner grabs your hair and holds your head aloft to the cheering rabble, so you can look out over them and see the faces of men, women, and children twisted in wicked glee.

You think of the gallows, and imagine taking a ride on that Big Swing. You never know in advance, before the trap door at your feet is sprung, whether your fall will be enough to break your neck so you die quickly, or whether you will slowly be strangled while you dance on air. If you’re thin, that could be how you die. If you’re fat, you could die like the young man in Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood: When the young man reached the end of the rope, his head stayed in the noose but his body kept falling. Again, people crowd the square to see which it will be.

Then there is the firing squad. You know one of the rifles has a blank cartridge in the barrel so each rifleman who fires at you can fool himself into thinking he didn’t kill you. And among those who do, how many are bad shots? Or maybe there are sadists who aim below your heart so you die more slowly and more painfully. You never know, until you hear the roar of rifles and feel the thud of bullets ramming into your chest.

The electric chair was to eliminate all those possibilities. But you saw the movie The Green Mile, and you know a sadistic guard could have put a wet sponge inside the helmet as he lowered it onto your head, so that you would burst into flames when the switch was thrown and you would die in agony over many minutes. All the while, the executioner keeps throwing other switches with higher voltages, hoping to shock you into unconsciousness. Even if you weren’t fried alive like that, you may have a heart so strong it withstands even the highest voltage. For a time. Meanwhile, the “witnesses” on the low bleachers are all watching your death agony.

That was supposed to be eliminated by the gas chamber. It was more humane. Imagine you were a young man about to be executed in a gas chamber. You are stripped naked, except for briefs, and strapped into a metal chair inside the metal chamber. You hear the cyanide pill roll down the chute and drop into the acid, hear a hiss as the chemical reaction begins, and see the fumes rise from the vat of acid. You take a deep breath before the fumes reach your nose. But soon you have to gasp and take another breath that this time delivers the lethal fumes. You strangle a cough and again try to hold your breath. But you can’t. You take another breath. And another. Each time you cough and wheeze more and more, feeling the poison gas burning your lungs. Perhaps you vomit and defecate. Your chest heaves against the confining straps. All the while, faces peer into the oval windows surrounding the gas chamber, watching your death agony.

At last the state has produced a painless, humane method of capital punishment: lethal injection. You are strapped onto a gurney and wheeled down the corridor to the execution chamber. Or maybe the death pallet is bolted to the floor inside the room, so you are dragged to it. Once you are secured with thick leather straps, the looming injection pump is wheeled to your side. It has six hoses, each with a long nail-like needle at the end. Needles on the three death hoses are shoved in one arm, and three needles on back-up hoses are shoved in the other arm. Each delivers a special fluid, one to paralyze your body, one to render you unconscious, and one to deliver the lethal poison. The first pain is when the needles are jabbed into both of your arms, each seeking a vein. Sometimes veins are hard to find, so you keep getting stabbed until all of the needles are secured. Then the sluice is opened for the first fluid. Is it the right one? You are losing control over your body so you assume it is. You can’t easily wiggle your fingers and toes, and breathing becomes more difficult. The second sluice is opened. After a few minutes you get dizzy and feel your consciousness drifting away. But you still know what’s going on. The third sluice is opened to deliver the excruciating, lethal poison. Each time you can see the fluid approaching you through the transparent hoses, slowly advancing, with each inch subtracting precious seconds from your life. You feel the fiery fluids running up veins inside your arms. Death feels like a vice, like the coils of a python tightening, tightening. All the while, your heart bravely tries to keep pumping inside the rigid embrace of that crushing grip. You’re not supposed to feel a thing. The “doctors” and “witnesses” stare down at you. Then you see Bob Dylan’s “long black cloud coming down” and you know it can’t be reversed. This “mercy killing” can take up to two hours. Killed with compassion.

Compassion. Even drawing-and-quartering political prisoners and papist priests in Protestant England didn’t take that long. Maybe that’s your last conscious thought.

Promoting Misconceptions

Elizabeth Hanink’s article “Dying Without Dignity & Other End-of-Life Scares” (Jul.-Aug.) was rich with comprehensive research and strongly held convictions. But the unfortunate truth is that the bulk of the discussions of end-of-life care is not occurring within the confines of NOR readership but rather within the secular, political, and media-driven populace, where physician-assisted-suicide proponents like Compassion & Choices dominate the discourse. Using scare tactics of agonizing and dignity-stripped death, they promote the misconception that there are no reasonable choices other than assisted suicide.

Who is speaking to the general populace from the Catholic perspective and how do we address the larger culture where freedom from inconvenience, suffering, and sacrifice is to be pursued at all cost?

Elizabeth Hanink has provided a worthwhile reminder of the dangers of physician-assisted suicide. Unfortunately, like many others who report on this subject, she missed a very important element within the right-to-die movement.

This movement has one goal, euthanasia, and at least two ways to get there: the hard way and the soft way. Compassion & Choices, which promotes physician-assisted suicide, represents the former. As Hanink points out, it has received millions from George Soros. (The IRS 990 form for Compassion & Choices of Oregon, apparently the organization’s home office, indicates that it had at least $20,812,163 in expenses, with salaries for four executives at $621,235 in 2014.)

On the other hand, the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), the Altarum Institute, and other groups represent the softer, gentler pathway to imposed death, called “palliative care.” Palliative care is generally thought of as a type of pain management for the chronically ill and dying, but the dictionary definition of palliation is “to cover something.” And covering up an imposed death is what these groups are all about. CAPC trains palliative-care professionals to work in hospital inpatient units, intensive-care units, and emergency rooms, and in rehab centers and even community healthcare organizations. All these groups have legislated and lobbied their way into a protected, increasingly profitable, and rapidly expanding niche within the world of health care.

Consider the University of California San Francisco’s Palliative Care Program, which has received $750,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, $153,000 from Soros’s Project on Death in America and other private foundations, and $726,640 from the National Institute on Aging. An article at the website of the James Irvine Foundation, which gave the program its 2011 Leadership Award, described its work thus: “Palliative care is often healthier for the patient’s family members, who are at greater risk of depression if they’ve watched their loved ones suffer. It is also more cost efficient: Research shows that by providing realistic options and ensuring that care is consistent with what patients and families want, medical centers can reduce useless interventions and save thousands of dollars for every patient cared for by a palliative care service” (emphasis added).

This more moderate wing of the right-to-die movement makes its arguments based on utilitarian principles. As part of its communication strategy, it encourages discussion of goals of care and reminds patients of the so-called indignities of pain and the potential loss of inheritance due to expensive treatment. The point being: Die now, save yourself and your family the inconvenience of a non-planned death, save the state the cost of treating your health problems, and free up space in a hospital bed when someone more deserving could be using it.

Those opposed to this utilitarian philosophy tend to fall into a trap. We accept the notion that all death is humiliating, pain-filled, and undesirable for the family, and as Hanink points out, “even the Catholic Church does not insist on futile or extraordinary treatment or suffering.”

Catholics often quote Pope Pius XII’s 1957 definition of the “ordinary means” of sustaining life as those “that do not involve any grave burden for oneself or another” — as opposed to extraordinary means, which the Pope said “would be too burdensome for most men and would render the attainment of the higher, more important good too difficult.” Unfortunately, euthanasia proponents have also been using these outdated definitions to their own advantage in order to justify limiting traditional medical treatment. In fact, the Society for the Right to Die Handbook (1981) makes explicit mention of this papal statement as a “landmark” success for the right-to-die movement.

Today, extraordinary means not only “too burdensome” but too expensive. And the question really is, “Are you, the patient, valuable enough to the community to be worthy of that treatment?”

Ironically, palliative care does not cut down on the costs of health care; it increases the costs by creating jobs for teams of palliative physicians, nurses, chaplains, and social workers; jobs for healthcare preventive groups, consultants, hospice workers, residential-care facility personnel, bereavement specialists, and new government bureaucrats, such as those who staff “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment” registry offices, and lots of measurement specialists setting “best practices” standards of palliative care, including palliative spirituality, all while seducing vulnerable, trusting citizens to advance the cause of the “new” business of healthcare planning.

Your foremost “right” is the right to life, along with liberty and the ability to seek happiness and eternal salvation. Beware death as a salesman knocking at your door.


Patricia Ryan and Camille Giglio make good points, and doubtless we can find unity in distinctions. I am sure, of course, that the NOR editors hope that among their readers there are more than a few non-Catholics.

To the specifics: Alex Schadenberg, director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, who works tirelessly on the international scene, believes strongly in the value of a broad-based net­work of people opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. His website, www.epcc.ca, is well worth visiting.

We can also find much to do in our own backyard. Susan Talamantes Eggman, sponsor of California’s End-of-Life Options Act, which is now working its way through the legislature, stated before the members of the assembly that she is a practicing Catholic and reported meeting with various clergymen as she worked on the bill. Several other supporters of the proposed law did likewise. The right to physician-assisted suicide is part of the California Democratic platform, and many of the people who vote for Democrats are Catholic.

According to the most recent Pew research, 67 percent of white Catholics believe that a person has a moral right to suicide when he is in a great deal of pain with no hope of improvement. Hispanic Catholics show smaller numbers but, like white Catholics, when it comes to having an incurable disease or having a life that is a burden to self or others, many think that suicide is a right. Physician-assisted suicide wins the approval of about half of all white Catholics. The numbers for Hispanic Catholics are still well above a quarter of those polled.

A close look at palliative care would make for an entire book — and it has. Briefly, Camille Giglio is correct: Palliative care is big business and very much a part of the aid-in-dying movement. The vocabulary surrounding it is rife with misuse. Still, her definition is too narrow. The term properly refers to reducing the impact of a disease and easing its symptoms without curing the underlying disease. In itself, palliative care can help suffering and seriously ill patients endure, and need not limit needed medical care. It is a shame that because some misuse the help medicine can offer, others might be deprived of assistance or fear it. Nor has everyone who supports palliative care fallen into a utilitarian trap that would make extraordinary mean “burdensome” or “too expensive.” We have an obligation to protect our lives, to the extent we can, even if it costs us, and to accept suffering if there is no moral means of avoiding it. Is there a risk that in consenting to palliative care or hospice, we leave ourselves open to abuse? Yes, and that is a fact of American life today.

I don’t accept, of course, that all deaths are “humiliating, pain-filled.” Nor need any be, if we rightly order what is true, accept what help medicine offers, and recognize that we are in God’s loving care.

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